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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Plenty of story lines for 97th Indy 500

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An unlikely pole sitter, the battle between engine manufacturers, and the possibility of another driver getting into the four win club are just a few of the interesting stories leading up to the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Home town driver Ed Carpenter stunned the competition by taking his one-car team to the top of the speed charts on Pole Day as he registered a four lap average of 228.762 to become the first American since 2006 to pace the field on race day. Carpenter, who is also the owner of the team and the stepson of Tony George Jr., turned back the charge of all the powerhouse multi-car teams to earn his best starting spot ever at 16th and Georgetown and gave all the credit to his team, which is headed up by the great Derrick Walker.

“I have never been around a group of guys who work so hard,” said the gracious and polite Carpenter minutes after getting out of his car and accepting congratulations from a large group in his pits. “I just want to make sure the team stays focused moving forward.”

While “Fast Eddie” was indeed the quickest, there were several challengers just a tick behind him including rookie Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, and E.J. Viso, all from the Andretti Autosport stable, as well as A.J. Allmendinger and Will Power from Penske Racing, who all joined the pole sitter in breaking the 228 mph barrier.  

The engine manufacturer contest was clearly won by Chevrolet, as Honda’s fastest qualifier was Alex Tagliani, who will start 11th on the grid. Defending Indy 500 champion and three-time winner Dario Franchitti will roll off on race day from the middle of the sixth row where he will be surrounded by his teammate and 2008 winner Scott Dixon. Indy Car series points leader Takuma Sato, who scored his first victory recently at Long Beach, is driving for the legendary A.J. Foyt and will look to add to his impressive performance at Indy. Last year he spun out after making contact with Franchitti attempting to pass him for the victory on the last lap of the race.

“I wouldn’t change anything if the situation repeated itself,” explained the confident Sato when asked about last year following his qualifying for this year’s race. “I had a chance to win the 500 and I took it.”

In recent years there has been a limited pool of drivers who were both capable and had the mount to win the 500, but that group has expanded this year and we could very well see a first-time winner from the likes of Marco Andretti, Will Power and James Hinchcliffe.

It is also quite possible that both Franchitti or Helio Castroneves could register their fourth win and place their names amongst the racing royalty that has won at Indy four times. Regardless of how it plays out, look for an extremely competitive race and one that may very well go down to the final laps again as last year, where there was a record 34 lead changes and we saw half the field finishing on the lead lap.

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Notes: Four women qualified for the 97th Indy 500. They include: Anna Beatriz, Simona De Silvestro, Katherine Legge and Pippa Mann. De Silvestro was the quickest at 225.226.

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While Honda is again trailing Chevrolet in terms of qualifying speed, they may indeed have Chevrolet’s number on race day. Look for the Chevrolet teams to pull away quickly when they drop the green flag, but the Honda teams by virtue of fuel strategy and good pit stops should provide a formidable challenge.

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Chase Austin will again compete in the Freedom 100 on Carb Day (May 24) driving an Indy Lights entry for Herta Autosports. Slated to drive in the 2013 Indy 500 for Foyt Racing, his sponsorship fell through. While it was no fault of Austin’s, it deprived him of an opportunity to become just the third African-American to drive in the Indy 500. To his credit, he has taken the high road on the matter but is distraught over the situation. He clearly deserved better.

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The 97th Indianapolis 500 will be ran May 26 at noon. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by dialing (317) 492-8500 or by visiting the IMS box office at 16th Street and Georgetown Road.

Danny Bridges, who predicts the Andretti curse will cease to exist when Marco pulls into Victory Lane on race day, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.

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